Brussels- The European Union and Cuba signed a political accord on Monday that the EU hopes will position its companies for Cuba’s transition to a more open economy and allow it to press for political freedoms on the island.
In the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since the EU lifted sanctions on the communist-ruled island in 2008, the so-called political dialogue and cooperation agreement is the first accord between Cuba and the 28-nation bloc.
Although modest in scope, it follows more two decades of EU diplomacy to set out a framework for stronger ties and comes two weeks after the death of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro, whose imprisonment of dissidents long hampered better relations.
“We are starting to write a new chapter together,” EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said at signing ceremony with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla in Brussels, along with EU foreign ministers and ambassadors.
“Today, we recognize that there’s been change in Cuba,” said Mogherini.
“We are at a real turning point in relations between the EU and Cuba.”
She said that, through the new agreement, “the EU shows its willingness to support the process of economic and social modernization in Cuba, and I hope we will continue to advance in our bilateral relations.”
The signatures advanced a preliminary agreement reached in Cuba in March, when the Obama administration was also in the process of thawing ties with the Communist-rules Caribbean island.
Since then, however, the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president and the death of Castro, have cast doubt over better U.S.-Cuba relations.
On Monday, Mogherini said the Trump administration’s choices wouldn’t impact EU ties with Cuba.
“The developments in Washington that will come as of the end of January onwards will not affect in any way the relations between the European Union and Cuba,” she said.
“We are friends, we are partners. We want to work together and we will work together. The impact of this on others, it’s not for me to judge.”
For his part, Parrilla said, “Economic links with Europe will continue to be a priority for Cuba as we build a socialist economy.”
The agreement “demonstrates that with good will and respect it is possible to make progress and resolve differences,” he noted.